Sunday, September 30
This week is going to be a FUN one for the Maynards! Today we are hopping in the car and heading to Anaheim! We’ve got some fun days ahead of us and the trip will be fast and furious. I can’t wait!
Given the travel plans, our menu is definitely in vacation mode!
- Dinner in Disneyland!
- Dinner on the road, driving home
- Spaghetti and veggies from CSA bag
- Chicken Pot Pie (I can’t wait to share this recipe with you, it’s easy, fast and delicious! Post coming soon…had to wait for the cookbook it’s from to publish, which happens 10/1.)
- Stefania’s Braised Chicken (didn’t get to it last week)
- Leftovers or Waffles
You know the drill…please share your menu for the week! Thank you, everyone!
Friday, September 28
This post has been rumbling around in my brain for some time, so I’m finally setting it free! Plus, I love sharing my strange neuroses and then having you people back me up. It makes me feel better about myself.
There are four foods that I HATE the smell of. And it’s weird because they are totally normal foods that shouldn’t elicit such a passionate smell response. And, in fact, I eat these foods. But for some reason, the way they smell puts me over the edge.
I actually don’t like eating peanuts, but I DO like peanut butter. But the smell? Oh goodness. I can’t handle it. Back when I worked in an office full time, my boss had a jar of peanuts and everyone would nibble on nuts as we held our weekly staff meeting…little did they know they were slowly nibbling away at my sanity at the same time.
Whether it’s a bowl of Cheerios in milk or leftover Cheerios sitting in the bottom of the sink, the smell makes me bonkers. And, too bad for me, my kids eat Cheerios almost every day. I don’t care how late we’re running in the morning, I get those bowls rinsed out as soon as I can!
Popcorn that wasn’t popped in the last 15 minutes
I love the smell of freshly popped popcorn, but as soon as it’s cold, no thanks. And a bowl of popcorn that’s sat out overnight? I can smell it miles away. BLECH!
I know, weird. I’m telling you, I eat the stuff. It tastes great. But I can’t stand the smell.
I feel better now. For some reason airing out my crazy is therapeutic.
Wet Cheerios AND a knife with peanut butter sitting in the sink? AAAAHHHHHH!!!!
What completely normal food smells drive YOU crazy? And, if you agree with any of the foods above, please back me up!
No food bloggers were committed to a mental hospital in the photographing of this stinky food…but it was a close one.
Wednesday, September 26
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I love making cakes for my kids’ birthdays. The birthday cakes my mom made for me as a child are cherished memories, so it’s something I want to pass on to my own children.
When I started making cakes for our kids, they never came out quite how I envisioned, but I’ve gotten better with every cake and finally feel like I have a handle on the process. I suppose I could have just taken a class at some point, but where’s the fun in having someone who actually knows what they’re doing share their wisdom with you?
Owen’s 1st birthday party was on Saturday. I made a doggie cake for him because, as a 1-year-old, there are only two things in the world he loves: things with wheels and doggies. I spent several hours getting the cakes ready for the party and when I was finally able to show Owen the final product, he got super excited and giggled, just like when he sees a real dog! That excitement made all the hard work totally worth it. The cake ended up being a huge hit at the party, and not just because it was cute (which it was!). It was uber delicious, too, so I will share the recipes at the end of this post!
After all these years of figuring out how to decorate cakes on my own, I wanted to share my learnings with you. Remember, I’m an amateur…but I think most of us are, so hopefully these tips will be as helpful to you as they are to me!
1. Make the cake two days in advance and freeze it.
When you start decorating you want the cake to be frozen, so for time-saving purposes, it’s a good idea to bake the cake at least two days in advance. After baking, let the cakes cool completely on a cooling rack, wrap in plastic then freeze.
2. Use cake strips!
Have you tried the cake strip trick yet? I will forever be indebted to my friend Lindsay for sharing this trick with me. I get flat cakes out of the oven EVERY TIME. Click here for all the details.
3. Decorate the cake the day before you are going to serve the cake.
The times that I’ve saved the cake decorating for the day of the party were always far more stressful times and the cakes were not as well done. I HIGHLY recommend decorating the cake the day before you need it!
4. Make a ton of frosting.
The frosting recipe I will share below is enough to frost a 2-layer cake. When I know I’m going to be making a “cute” cake, I usually triple the recipe to be safe.
5. Spread a crumb coat on the frozen cake then refrigerate.
When you’re ready to start icing the cake, do a crumb coat first. This is a thin layer of frosting that goes on before the final layer. If the cake is frozen it is much easier to ice. The crumb coat is an extra step but SO WORTH IT. It’s really wonderful to have a layer of frosting where it doesn’t matter if crumbs show…it makes all the difference. Once the crumb coat is on, refrigerate or freeze the cake again until the frosting firms up (30-60 minutes).
Also, a quick note on carving. If you need to shape your cake, it’s helpful to carve it when it’s frozen. If it takes a while for you to get it all cut up, you may want to stick in the freezer again for 15-30 minutes before doing the crumb coat. Bottom line – frozen cakes are easier to deal with the whole way through the process!
6. Don’t let the food coloring dictate the colors.
I have a set of eight food color gels that I use, which provides me with lots of color options. However, I never use those colors straight up – I used to be a painter, I can’t resist mixing the colors! One of my favorite tricks is using brown to tone down the colors. I find most of the default food colors are a little bright for my taste. Adding a hint of brown makes nice, rich colors. Click here for a chart from Wilton for more color-mixing inspiration.
This color was made using blue, brown and black.
7. When you mix a color, make more than you think you need.
I love making my own colors, but there is one problem…it’s tricky mixing the same exact color more than once. When you create a color, make sure you mix more than you think you need so you don’t run out halfway through the princess’s dress or Superman’s cape!
8. Seek out inspiration for designs!
I have a book called “Cakes for Kids” by Matthew Mead that I LOVE. Either get your hands on that book or another similar title and use it for tips and inspiration. Searching the web is a great tool, too. I always do tons of looking around for shapes and ideas when coming up with the design.
9. Keep it Simple
A simple design can be powerful and it’s much easier to execute, so the likelihood of success increases dramatically. And remember, cut the cake into the shapes you need when it’s frozen!
Spiderman ended up being super simple – I just had to shave off the edges of a round cake!
10. Draw the design ahead of time.
Draw your design out on paper ahead of time, real-size. You can then lay that over the cake to cut it to the right shape and it’s not quite as scary when you put frosting to cake.
11. Buy a couple flat spatulas.
I randomly picked up a couple straight spatulas at Michael’s once, not realizing how awesome they are. They have totally changed my ability to spread icing on cakes – it looks so much more smooth and pretty than when I use a butter knife. I have two angled straight spatulas – one little, one big. They are wonderful!
12. Buy a set of decorating tips and don’t be afraid to use them.
You need decorating tips in order to decorate the cake, so make sure you have a set! I recommend using gallon-sized freezer ziploc bags instead of piping bags – it’s just a lot easier for clean-up. Also, I generally spread a flat layer of buttercream over the whole cake and then either use the small round tip to draw on the cake or a flower tip to fill in areas, like Spiderman’s eyes and the doggie’s nose.
13. Use waxed paper under the edges of the cake to keep the plate clean.
I wrote about this trick that my friend Nikki shared with me a few years ago and I still use it every time I frost a cake. Place your cake on the serving platter. Tear up strips of waxed paper, about 2″ – 3″ in length, then tuck them under the edges of the cake all the way around. When the cake is completely iced, carefully remove the paper. I use a thin knife to sort of hold the icing back so it doesn’t stick to the wax paper and pull away from the cake when I remove the paper.
14. Cake boards are awesome!
I love these cake boards for displaying the cake. They come in white, which looks cute, but you can always cover them with another color paper if you like (like pink for Hello Kitty). I bought a pack of big, round cake boards a few years ago and they’ve been wonderful to have handy!
15. Have fun!
If you don’t have fun doing this, then don’t do it. I really love doing making these cakes, so it is worth the work. Make sure you’re having fun!
I know it seems like Wilton sponsored this post, but they didn’t (although, I should have thought of that!). They just have great products that work! Wilton also has a page on their site “Cake and Dessert Decorating 101″ that is very helpful if you want even more tips.
A word about the cake:
For years I used cake mixes and I encourage you to do the same. They’re easy and taste good. However, I have started making my cakes from scratch just because I found some recipes that I love…and I guess I like to make things harder on myself than I need to. The chocolate cake recipe below is seriously AWESOME. Just sayin’.
And a word about the frosting:
I love homemade buttercream and use it for almost all of my cakes (recipe below). I hate store-bought frosting. Making buttercream is in fact super easy so you should just bite the bullet and do it! The recipe below is perfect – my frosting comes out right every time.
I have used swiss meringue buttercream at times – it tastes fabulous and you can play around with how the surface of the frosting looks a bit more (for example, on the elephant cake I could create texture that I would not be able to do with regular buttercream). It’s a bit more work to make, so if I don’t need the flexibility of texture, I just stick with regular buttercream.
I’ve also used 7-minute frosting because I needed to (you have to check out Anna’s ghost birthday cake…so funny), but I HATE HOW IT TASTES, so I will only ever use it again if I have need to pipe little ghosts.
Feel free to chime in with your own cake decorating tips and tricks!
From Matthew Mead’s Cakes for Kids
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for the pans
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter (Jane note: mine was salted, it was fine), at room temp
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temp
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk (Jane note: mine was 1%, it was fine)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Lightly grease two 8-inch rounds OR two 9-inch rounds OR one 10-inch round. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper or parchment paper, grease again, then coat pan with thin layer of flour. If doing cupcakes, line 24 cups with liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
Using an electric mixer, on medium to high speed beat the butter in a large bowl for 30 seconds. Gradually add sugar 1/4 cup at a time at medium speed and then beat 3-4 minutes more or until well combined. Scraped down sides of bowl. Beat 2 minutes more at medium. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.
With the mixer on low, add flour in 3 additions, alternating with milk in 2 additions, beating until just combined after each addition. Beat on medium-high speed for 20 seconds more.
Spread batter in prepared pans – fill pans 2/3 full. Bake 30-35 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean (make sure you don’t undercook! You want no jiggling in the middle and a clean toothpick).
Place cake on wire rack and cool for 10 minutes. Invert onto the rack, lift of the pan, remove waxed paper and let cool completely on rack. Cupcakes should cool in pan for 15 minutes before removing.
Adapted from How to Cook Everything
- 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 6 tablespoons cream or milk (cream is better)
Beat butter with a mixer (I use my KitchenAid with the paddle attachment). Gradually work in the sugar, alternating with the cream and beating well after each addition. If the frosting is too thick to spread, add a little more cream, a teaspoon at a time. If it is too thin (which is unlikely), refrigerate for a few minutes; it will thicken as butter hardens. You can add up to 2 teaspoons of vanilla, but if you need white frosting leave the vanilla out!
Sunday, September 23
Yesterday we hosted Owen’s 1st birthday party! It was so much fun and he was in heaven, crawling around in the dirt and eating equal parts cake and sand. I cannot believe he is 1 already, but at the same time it seems about 100 years since he was born. He and I share the same birthday this week…he truly was the best birthday present I could have ever dreamed of!
On to the menu!
- Chili (didn’t get to it last week)
- My birthday! I refuse to cook!
- Stefania’s Braised Chicken
- Eat out after soccer practice
- Honestly, probably eating out again because I’ll be packing up for our trip the next day! Or maybe something quick and simple like soup with grilled cheese.
- Driving to Anaheim for a quick family vacation! (More on that to come…but a quick shout out to the Anaheim Tourism Bureau for helping us plan a quick yet action-packed trip!)
As always, reading through your menus each week when I sit down to plan is such a help and inspiration! Thank you! Can’t wait to see what you all have planned this week!
Friday, September 21
My sister is the best. She brought me a burrito for lunch today. And a little cup of amazing salsa.
I need the sustenance because I’ve got homemade chocolate cake in the freezer waiting to be decorated for Owen’s 1st birthday party tomorrow. Woohoo! I’ll be sure to do a post next week so you can see the final product. The vision in my head is super cute…let’s hope I can execute!
Have a happy Friday!
Tuesday, September 18
A side dish that I grew up with were these delicious potatoes…cooked in cream and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. There’s something about the flavor of cream and potatoes paired with pepper that just takes me back in time.
I realized a few weeks ago that I’ve never actually made these tasty taters myself. Which is crazy because they are easy to throw together and OH SO GOOD.
And, yes, they are devilishly delicious. I mean, it’s pretty much straight up cream with some potatoes thrown in for good measure. But the peels are healthy, so there ya go!
Cream and Potatoes
From Phyllis and Hans Wallin (Jane’s parents)
- About 6 good-sized red potatoes (go with a less starchy potato, like new potatoes, if you can)
- 1 pint cream
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon each of olive oil and butter
Chop potatoes into evenly-sized, bite-sized pieces. Heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add potatoes and cook over medium-low to medium heat until potatoes have softened and can be cut easily with a thin knife. I usually cook the potatoes with the lid on the pan and stir them every few minutes.
Pour cream over potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper, about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of each. Make sure there is enough pepper that you can taste it. Heat over medium-low heat uncovered until hot and cream has started to thicken. The potatoes will help thicken the sauce, which is good but is also why I like to use red potatoes so that they hold their shape and don’t thicken the cream too much.
Monday, September 17
Remember last month how we had the chance to try some of the new Kashi cereals through Martha’s Circle? This month we get to try another one of Cate’s favorite foods – granola bars. It’s like Kashi knows my daughter!
We were sent a box of the Kashi TLC Peanutty Dark Chocolate Layered Granola Bars, which are one of Kashi’s Kid-Friendly Top 10. I was honestly wondering if Cate would like the bars. They have whole peanuts sprinkled on top. Cate normally won’t eat food with nuts (this may be genetic and she may have inherited this trait from her mother). The chocolate layer is sweetened with fruit, so it has a different taste that, again, I wasn’t sure she would go for. But Cate LOVES granola bars, so I knew she’d be the best person to taste test these granola bars with.
Cate immediately noticed the nuts on the top layer of the bar, but she was game for the taste test anyway. Her love for granola bars outweighed her skepticism about nuts. Phew! I didn’t tell her about the chocolate being a little different and just told her to eat a bar and tell me what she thought. In usual 7-year-old fashion, I received a short and succinct review: “It’s good.” A few minutes later having given her some time to enjoy the snack, I asked her why she liked the granola bars. She said that she really liked the nuts and chocolate chunks on top of the chocolate (What? Is this my kid?!) and that the chocolate was “delicious.” Cate has since eaten almost the entire box!
I also liked the bars. The granola bar layer itself is nice and crispy, but not overly hard or difficult to bite. The crispiness of the granola pairs nicely with the soft, thick fruit and chocolate layer. What I loved most was that the peanut flavor was subtle and not overpowering, providing a nice balance of flavors overall. Plus, the bars have tons of protein and fiber and all those wholesome whole grains Kashi is famous for. It’s a great kid-approved snack I can add to our kitchen arsenal!
Thank you, Kashi, for introducing Cate to yet another product that she can beg for every time we go to the store. (Seriously, people, she cannot stop asking for that GoLean Crisp cereal. She’s addicted!)
Sunday, September 16
I love it when I get my act together and make pancakes on Sunday morning. And apparently Owen is a fan…he ate an entire pancake in less than 2 minutes and ate three total!
How is it that another week has passed? I swear time is on fast forward.
- Cream of Mushroom Soup
- Chicken tenders and veggies
- Tuscan Tomato Soup
- Family picnic at Cate’s school
- Take-out after Owen’s 1st birthday celebration! See, time is on fast forward…how is my baby almost 1?!?!
- Chili (didn’t get to it last week, but I know I’m getting bell peppers in the CSA bag this week, so that will be perfect!)
Cate helped plan the menu this week. She did a good job! You all know the drill…get your menus posted on here! We want to see what you’re up to!
Friday, September 14
I want to tell you about my little friend Lucy. She’s three years old and she is funny, feisty and loving. Really loving. Like, if she met you right now, she would tell you how much she loves you.
Lucy is also the person in my life who I think about when things get hard or stressful, or at least when I think they get hard or stressful. All I have to do is call Lucy and her family to mind and I instantly gain perspective. You see, Lucy has a terminal and degenerative genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). She can’t walk. She can’t eat. She can barely breathe. And yet she is LUCY. She has this amazing little brain that works just like yours and mine. She loves using her iPad (which, by the way, has opened up the world to her). She loves to go swimming. She loves the Disney princesses. She loves to swing on the back porch with her brother and sister in the special swing her grandpa built for her. She likes to drive her special chair ALL BY HERSELF. She is just like any three-year-old, except her body just doesn’t cooperate.
Lucy’s parents Chad and Cherisse are amazing. They have the tremendous task of caring for Lucy, and they do so with tenderness and love, just as any parent would. But, actually witnessing their care, on both good days and bad? It is a true inspiration and a reminder of the great love and great good we are all capable of. Even with all the care that Lucy requires, they still have strong relationships with their two older children, who adore Lucy as well. Cherisse’s Instagram feed does a heart good, let me tell you. Getting a peak into their day-to-day, the small moments Lucy has with her siblings, it’s beyond touching.
Lucy is a miracle. She was diagnosed with type 1 SMA (the most severe form) as a small baby. At the time of diagnosis, the doctors said Lucy would be lucky to see her first birthday, which was hard for Cherisse to believe looking at the baby in her lap. It became clear as time went on, however, that the disease would overtake almost all of her abilities.
And yet…Lucy is a miracle. 90% of SMA Type 1 babies don’t make it to their 2nd birthday…and Lucy is a trooper of a 3-year-old!
SMA stinks. Lucy is the second child I’ve personally known who has this disease. I’ve been wanting to tell you about Lucy because, well, I love her story. But I also want to help Cherisse spread the word about SMA. I love this infographic from the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation that gives a fabulous summary of the disease:
Here is SMA in a nutshell: it’s degenerative, it’s the #1 genetic killer of infants and young children, it affects the body’s ability to function in just about every way and yet the brain is never affected. But here’s the sort of magical thing about SMA…research of this disease could truly do wonders. Treatment and cure is plausible and, if discoveries are made for SMA, that research could help with the treatment of hundreds of other genetic diseases and neurological disorders. (To read more about SMA, click here!)
Have you ever seen the This American Life tv show? It is as great as the podcast, and my most favorite story from the series is of Mike Phillips. Mike was diagnosed with SMA at age 9. He was 27 when This American Life told his story. He always said that if he could talk, he would want to sound like Johnny Depp. Awesomely they got Johnny Depp to narrate his story, a story that is amazing, haunting, sad, funny and will definitely make you cry. It gives such a unique insight into the mind of someone dealing with this disease.
Lucy has made a mark on this world. She has impacted many lives. And she is a beautiful reminder to all of us that each and every day we have on this earth is a gift. I am going to quote Cherisse here for a bit because, well, the words of Lucy’s own mother are more precious and powerful than anything I can come up with.
“I would not trade the world for this little girl that brings so much joy, love, hope and light to our lives. She is an angel in every sense of the word and I wish I could share her with the whole world. She has enough love in her little red heart for everyone she meets (and she will tell you that she loves you too, over and over again). I don’t think that our family will ever feel as loved and supported as we have while caring for this very special girl, my heart swells when I think of all of the kindness and love that has been shown to us. Everyday I think that my life will never be as stressful as it is now but then it won’t ever be as wonderful as today, another day (and everyday) that I get to spend with my three little ones and my sweet husband.”
If you’d like to help support SMA research, Cherisse is going to be running the Santa Barbara 1/2 Marathon to raise money for the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the SMA cause. I would LOVE LOVE LOVE it if some of you could support Cherisse and help us fight SMA. Even if it’s just $5. Consider it your annual This Week for Dinner subscription fee or skip the pumpkin latte at Starbucks for a day. No pressure, just if you’re feeling it! Click here to donate!
And, have you seen the completely awesome Flight of the Conchords charity song? Really, you have to watch it. The whole thing (or at least start around the 5:00 mark). It will make you happy and the supremely catchy song will get stuck in your head. Let’s helpa helpa helpa the kids!
Thursday, September 13
Okay, people. Today’s enhiladas are scrumptious! You have to try them!! (Are you convinced yet? Did I use enough exclamation points? !!!!!! How about now?)
The recipe comes from Ms. Erika, one of Anna’s preschool teachers. Cate had Ms. Ferneyn and Ms. Erika several years ago and now Anna has the same two lovely teachers. Not only are they fabulous preschool teachers, but they shower me with recipes, food and produce. These ladies are kindred spirits and I love them as much as my girls.
Ms. Erika brought us dinner a few times last year through all the baby-being-born madness and these enchiladas were one of the meals she shared with us. These enchiladas are delectable and you can use chicken or black beans or both! The cilantro sour cream sauce is so good, with a mellow, balanced heat that pleases both kids and adults alike. It’s my new favorite enchilada recipe and, when I made them the other night, I could not eat just one.
Cilantro Sour Cream Enchiladas
From Ms. Erika, preschool teach extraordinaire
- 3 cups shredded cooked chicken OR 2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained (or a half and half combo)
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 can (4 or 4.5 oz) chopped green chilies
- 1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese, or a combination
- 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground cumin, or to taste
- 1 package (10 count, 17.5 oz) soft taco size flour tortillas
- 1 jar (16 oz) green salsa
- 1/2 cup water
- Suggested toppings: sour cream, guacamole, chopped tomatoes, diced onion, minced cilantro, extra green sauce
Grease a 13×9-inch baking dish. (Jane note: I did not grease my pan b/c I forgot. Everything turned out fine.)
In a bowl, mix chicken, half of the sour cream and half of the cilantro, the red pepper, chilies, 1/2 cup cheese, garlic and cumin.
Puree salsa, water and remaining 1/2 cup each of sour cream and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Spread 1 cup over the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
Spoon about 1/4 – 1/3 cup chicken mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place seam side down in rows on the sauce in the baking dish. Cover and refrigerate, along with the remaining sauce and cheese, up to 2 days.
To serve: Heat oven to 350*. Pour remaining sauce over tortillas; bake uncovered 35 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake 15 minutes longer or until bubbly.
Serve with lots of toppings and tortilla chips.
Jane notes that you need to read: I think these are better if you make them the day before, but I cooked them as soon as I assembled them and they were still AWESOME. Also, I didn’t pour all of the sauce over the enchiladas for baking – I reserved probably 1/2-3/4 cups or so and used that as a topping when we ate the enchiladas.